3-D Printing, a Boon for Racers, Inches Nearer for Carmakers
The Belgian racing crew Heli had an engine drawback. Particularly, below race circumstances, the manifold of the four-cylinder turbo diesel in its BMW 1-series exploded, bursting alongside an ultrasonically welded seam that held collectively the manifold’s two halves.
The crew tried reinforcing the seam. However when the automotive returned to the monitor, in the course of the center of a race there was a well-known bang, a lack of energy and a pit cease for a alternative manifold. This didn’t improve the crew’s file.
To make a substitute manifold by way of conventional strategies, stamping or casting, can be time-consuming and costly, requiring tooling, molds and weeks to design and manufacture.
In 2018 Heli took the issue to ZiggZagg, a Belgian firm that fabricates elements utilizing an HP 3-D printer. ZiggZagg made a digital scan of the two-piece manifold and after 10 hours had a digital blueprint for a stronger, lighter, one-piece manifold. In its first race with the brand new manifold, printed utilizing what is named PA 12 nylon, the half held up and Heli took third. That very same manifold lasted till the automotive was retired earlier this 12 months.
The three-D printing course of has quietly proved its value in racing from Formulation One to NASCAR. Groups are secretive about their precise makes use of of the expertise, however they permit that 3-D printing lets them make complicated elements that might not be made by different means.
That’s nice for small portions of unique elements, however when it got here to mass manufacturing, stamping, casting or injection-molding have remained cheaper and extra sensible. Nonetheless, enhancements in 3-D expertise now have it poised to reach on meeting strains the place on a regular basis coupes, sedans and hatchbacks are minted.
Volkswagen, one of many few automakers to publicly proclaim its 3-D-printing ambitions, is crash-testing physique body elements it plans to place into its vehicles by 2023. “For Volkswagen the principle strategic purpose is to show the expertise is of main use in our actual automotive manufacturing,” mentioned Martin Goede, head of expertise planning and improvement for VW.
Additive manufacturing, which is the trade’s umbrella time period for several types of 3-D printing, was envisioned within the 1970s, the primary printers arrived within the 1980s, and by the 1990s laser “sintering” was used to fuse powdered metals. Now printers can assemble elements from quite a lot of supplies corresponding to metals, polymers and ceramics.
The best way many of the printers now work is to fuse collectively powdered materials into skinny slices which might be stacked collectively to kind a form, a lot in the best way a package deal of copier paper with every sheet glued into place would make a strong paper block.
Additive manufacturing permits fabricators to construct objects that couldn’t be constructed beforehand, corresponding to elements with honeycomb-like reinforcement in hole areas, permitting elements to be lighter, stronger and stiffer.
The opposite factor it permits is the creation of recent alloys. “While you attempt to create superalloys, they don’t combine,” mentioned Brad Keselowski, who along with proudly owning Keselowski Superior Manufacturing drives the No. 2 Ford Mustang for Staff Penske within the NASCAR Cup collection. “You soften them in an enormous pot, and so they separate like oil and water.”
However these powdered supplies don’t separate. “Powder is like salt and pepper. While you combine salt and pepper, it stays combined,” he mentioned. “It’s permitting new alloys that merely aren’t attainable in different kinds of producing.”
All of this has been a boon to racing. Groups can use computer-aided design to assemble digital blueprints of elements that may be printed to be used inside days moderately than weeks, and with out creating costly tooling. The printed elements may be examined on precise autos, redesigned and retested, which is effective as a result of pc fashions that predict how a component will carry out in actual life are nonetheless simply simulations. “I need to construct one thing, strive it, and if I don’t prefer it, make one other one,” Mr. Keselowski mentioned.
The benefit that turnaround offers racing groups can’t be overstated.
“We discovered some type of new engineering benefit, and we have to construct a component and get it on the racecar as quickly as attainable. Every single day that goes by, we lose benefit,” he added.
Nowhere has this benefit been used to higher impact than in F1 racing. “Take into account an F1 automotive as a prototype; nothing is mounted,” mentioned Paul Monaghan, chief engineer for Crimson Bull’s F1 crew. Groups can now customise elements to particular tracks and climate circumstances, as an example dialing in a exact quantity of downforce for a rear wing. The fraction of a second enchancment it might present issues. “Two-tenths of a second might be two slots on the beginning grid order,” Mr. Monaghan mentioned. “Ten laps in, you might be two seconds clear.”
Whereas printing specialised elements to help a crew of 4 vehicles is sensible, supplying 100,000 elements hasn’t been. Additive manufacturing has been too sluggish and the fee too excessive to be sensible for mass manufacturing.
However firms like Volkswagen and Divergent Applied sciences say that’s poised to vary.
Divergent makes the $1.7 million Czinger 21C, which incorporates a light-weight printed aluminum chassis. Although the corporate plans to supply 80 vehicles this 12 months, the 21C is primarily an indication of the founder Kevin Czinger’s 3-D printing course of, which he claims is 10 to 20 occasions quicker than different printers. “That fee within the subsequent few years will double once more,” he mentioned.
Mr. Czinger mentioned he sped up printing partly by optimizing the method for a restricted variety of aluminum alloys. He mentioned that Divergent had printed chassis elements which might be being crash-tested by two prime world automotive producers, and can print 1,000 suspensions this 12 months to be used in a manufacturing automotive, which he declined to call. He mentioned his printers had introduced half prices under these for conventional manufacturing. “When you embody the tooling or casting, you might be truly going to have higher economics now,” he mentioned. “In any other case there is no such thing as a motive to do that.”
Volkswagen has deliberate to introduce 3-D printing steadily, beginning with personalized trim elements and progressing to chassis elements on manufacturing vehicles by 2023, forward of an unique estimate. “There are breakthrough developments in additive manufacturing,” Mr. Goede mentioned.
One such breakthrough is a change within the printing course of. Automotive elements have often been made by laser “sintering,” which fuses layers of powder collectively. However an older expertise referred to as binder printing has been improved to supply sturdy steel elements quicker than laser sintering can. Binder printers use glue to hitch the steel layers collectively. The finished half is then heated, burning off the glue and fusing the steel. In checks at VW, binder printing was quick and sturdy sufficient for mass manufacturing, Mr. Goede mentioned.
Trying towards anticipated advances, VW estimates the pace of binder printing to surpass sintering by 60 occasions within the subsequent two to 5 years. The corporate is crash-testing the vertical windscreen pillar generally known as the A-pillar for the T-Roc convertible which will seem on future fashions.
But it surely’s not sport over for conventional manufacturing. There are nonetheless challenges to additive manufacturing, like making certain high quality management. As an illustration, is a component dependable if there’s a momentary fluctuation in laser energy? How a lot of a fluctuation is OK? Requirements and check strategies should be developed, which is troublesome as a result of 3-D printing is quickly evolving and it’s arduous for check methodology to maintain up.
“So far as anybody can see, there’ll nonetheless be a necessity for standard manufacturing on the subject of elements like a automotive hood,” mentioned Tim Weber, HP’s world 3-D chief. “Creating a really giant, very skinny and really clean half shall be troublesome with additive manufacturing.”
Even VW’s bold plans concede the necessity for standard manufacturing. “Our technique is there shall be no full elimination,” Mr. Goede mentioned. “There shall be no whole 3-D physique sooner or later.”